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Origins, Evolution and Challenges to the Human Rights Movement in Tunisia

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Origins, Evolution and Challenges to the Human Rights Movement in TunisiaDownload Publication

This is the third and last survey paper on the evolution and challenges of Human Rights Action in North Africa. It is focused on the evolution and challenges of the human rights movement in Tunisia. The first organized group was the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights in 1977 (Ligue Tunisienne de la Défense des Droits de l’Homme, LTDH). The LTDH remained the only organization active in the field of human rights throughout the first decade of the history of the Tunisian human rights movement. Since its inception, the LTDH has acted as a refuge for political activists of various ideological and political backgrounds, sometimes resulting in conflating political and rights’ activism, despite attempts by the founders to separate the two fields.

Since the late 1980s, other human rights organizations emerged, both domestic or as branches of international organizations. Rights’ activists, whether at the LTDH or other associations were perceived by the government as part of the political opposition, notwithstanding developments in the official human rights discourse. Activists were persecuted and restrictions imposed on the work of their organizations. 

The year 2011 marked a milestone in the history of the Tunisian human rights movement. The fall of the dictatorial, corrupt regime of former president Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali and the ensuing shaky but persistent democratic transition had a major positive influence on the movement and the civil society at large, restructuring both and enabling them to play a key role in this transition. A number of human rights activists and "victims of the former regime" occupied very senior positions within the post-2011 governments. New human rights organizations emerged to focus on socioeconomic, sexual and ethnic rights. Due to the way it evolved and because of the current context, the human rights movement in Tunisia faces a number of challenges, including its relationship with politics, the generational chasm among activists, and internal governance issues.

 

Photo: Tunisians queue to formally complain abuses under the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, February 2011 | © EPA.